The director of transformation at NHS England and Improvement told the Digital Health Rewired audience that the current level of digital maturity across the NHS is “patchy”.

Speaking on the second day of Digital Health Rewired, Dr Timothy Ferris spoke about the shakeup of NHS organisations, the differing levels of digital maturity, capacity challenges, what we learned from the pandemic and moving forward.

Ferris was appointed director of transformation at NHS England and Improvement in March 2021 and since then, he shared with the Rewired audience what has been most surprising for him so far.

He said: “One of the most surprising things that I’ve found that I didn’t expect is the level of digital maturity across the NHS. The current state is patchy – there are really amazing examples of digital excellence but there are also places that have very few systems.

“I think 19% of acute trusts don’t have an EPR. That’s not okay in this day and age and in 2022 it’s not okay to be personally witnessing mistakes being made on paper. The advantages to patients of having electronic systems safeguard for written errors is now so well established.”

Ferris also delved into the importance of bringing various organisations together following the confirmation that NHSX and NHS Digital will merge into NHS England and NHS Improvement.

He said: “The idea of putting multiple prior directorates under one umbrella is a very simple basis. It’s really quite difficult to understand exactly what the priorities of the centre of the NHS are, because they have so many initiatives.

“Making sense of that cacophony of initiatives is a really important part of how we will make progress in this country on the digital infrastructure to enable our patients and our clinicians to take advantage of the two revolutions that are occurring.

“We are trying to be more joined up to have a more singular voice about what it is we’re trying to accomplish and that more singular voice includes, very importantly, a dialogue, which is finding out what are our greatest needs and what are we going to do to address those needs.”

Capacity challenges

Ferris went on to explain that one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS is our capacity, but this can be tackled with the introduction of virtual wards.

“These capacity challenges have multiple facets but there is a way that technology can be used to dramatically change the field of play for these capacity challenges in the NHS,” he said.

“This is what is called virtual wards, or home hospital, which is taking care of patients at home that would have otherwise been hospitalised and enabling this through a method that uses technology to make sure that we are monitoring the patients at distance and that we are communicating between clinicians and patients, all in real time, as if they were in hospital.

Pandemic response and moving forward

Ferris rounded off his speech by explaining how the pandemic has shone a light on our capabilities and stressing that we must move forward into the digital space to deliver better healthcare across the country.

He said: “The pandemic has shown really clearly the extraordinary power of addressing health issues when you have the data available to you to make decisions about the best ways to deliver care, with the vaccine deployment a classic example.

“We need to move, and we need to move deliberately into the digital space to make sure we are taking full advantage of revolutions to deliver the health benefits to the citizens of this country.”